Sink or Swim, Teacher!

28 May

When I was in college, the most useless classes I attended were in Curriculum and Instruction. However, one of the things I took away from them was that teachers have different approaches… and most of them get thrown out once you hit the classroom.

Now you may be wondering why I hate Curriculum and Instruction (or C&E, as I called them). As a budding high school teacher, I was expected to take three C&E core classes. The first one was all about the “formal lesson plan;” how to write objectives, timing, activities… and put them in a complete package. The second was modern issues in education; the professor was great at discussion and presenting different ideas… but years later, I realized he never used a lesson plan. He literally appeared and just ad-libbed a topic from there. The third one was Social Studies specific, and focused on using primary, secondary, and tertiary sources in the classroom.

None of these eggheads had any idea how to actually run a class… and because they never taught us classroom management, I almost quit before my student teaching experience was over.

The old adage is that 75% of teaching is classroom management; if I’m to be fair, we had half a day covering that topic. Three semesters of training; all of it useless. Why? Because it’s really hard to emulate a bunch of crappy students. The “sink-or-swim” model had been the only way to actually teach teachers how to teach. Nowadays, they’ve realized a first-year “mentor” program is helpful. If you partner an experienced teacher with a new teacher, they’re likely to improve.

In theory, that’s what the student teacher experience is supposed to do, but I had two supervising teachers who were so checked out that they didn’t provide any assistance. In one, she held her class in line through fear, so when I loosened restrictions, they went crazy. In the other, when I actually taught them something, they thought I was the best teacher ever. One day, things got so bad, I was ready to walk out of the school mid-class and never look back.

So how did I end up teaching five more years, then teaching almost 15 in corporate settings? Substitute teaching; it reminded me a) what I loved about teaching, b) I had no responsibilities outside the classroom, and c) it was a safe setting to practice classroom management. Coordinators at the district office are so desperate for substitutes that a warm body will suffice; in other words, the best substitute teacher is the one who shows up.

So there was zero pressure to perform; you had already achieved expectations by being there. If things went really bad in one class, that’s all right, you never have to go back there again. Meanwhile, I learned techniques and tricks to how to manage a class by sheer repetition. I discovered different teaching styles just from the lesson plans that the regular teacher left behind. I experienced different administrative styles by showing up at different schools. I learned more in five months of subbing then I ever did in classes.

Just like no one knows how to teach leadership, no one can teach teaching, but people have made a lot of money pretending they can. Heinlein used to have many of his characters get a Doctorate in “soft” sciences (especially Education) because you could generate pure BS in your papers, and no one would call you on it. For example, one of his characters wrote her dissertation on:

‘A Comparison of the World Pictures of Aristocles, Arouet, and Dzhugashvili considered through interaction of epistemology, teleology, and eschatology.’ The actual content was zero, as honest metaphysics must be, but I loaded it with Boolean algebra, which (if solved) proved that Dzhugashvili was a murdering scoundrel… as the kulaks of the Ukraine knew too well.

I gave a copy of my dissertation to Father McCaw and invited him to my convocation. He accepted, then glanced at the dissertation and smiled. ‘I think Plato would be pleased to be in the company of Voltaire… but each of them would shun the company of Stalin.’

Robert Heinlein, To Sail Beyond The Sunset, p. 36

I didn’t really appreciate that joke until I did my own graduate work in Education. Oh… my… God… the amount of BS I learned how to generate was insane… but that’s a story for another day. What do you think? Is there a better way to teach teachers? Did you have a better experience than me? Let me know in the comments below! Then check out one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too steep for your wallet, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. You’ll be glad you did.

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